Permaculture Keyline Water Systems: Don Tipping at Seven Seeds Farm

It seems like a damn has been opened … and water knowledge keeps flowing to me.

Another great demonstration of keyline design used to replenish a landscape and to insure water security. This one in north-west USA:

Water Walk

Yesterday we went for a walk around the valley in which Bhudeva is located (into which we envision Bhudeva expanding). It was a cool and sunny day. We walked around the first two-thirds of the ridge surrounding the valley but gave up on the final third because cold air was blowing into our faces and we are both recuperating from slight illness.

Every time we go on such a walk we see more, the valley reveals itself to us.

The north-facing slopes are in better ecological shape, or at least in a lesser state of deterioration. They are partially forested, though the forests are not smartly planted nor properly maintained. The slopes are softer and in some areas there are terraces. It has some very old fruit trees with good yields (given enough rain).

The south-facing slopes are well on their way to desertification. Above the keyline they are for the most part bare, steep (much more than the north facing slopes) and collapsing. At and beneath the keyline there are plenty of beautiful locations for additional houses for people who will join us in the future.

However the feature that most struck us in the poor south-facing slopes was the intricate and interconnected array of gullies. Though they are a product of erosion they are also naturally built water reservoirs. It is as if the land itself has taken measures and is slowly preparing to take in more water to heal itself. We could see substantial water storage laid out in beautiful, naturally dug shapes throughout the landscapes. Relatively small damns dispersed throughout the landscape may make a huge impact on the landscape. These formations also traverse the slopes traveling in soft paths from top to bottom.

We’ve been told that a stream once ran down into our property (on the eroded north facing slope). We could see a potential for two such streams and are very much looking forward to performing earthworks that may yet bring them back to life.

We also realized that the valley offers endless niches of diverse microclimates that are like a playground for generations to come. For traditional farming this place is uninviting … it is very hard (in many places impossible) to work in open, plowed, monocultured fields. However for us it has endless possibilities and potential. This is what makes it ours (even the parts we do not yet own) … we  see it.

The walk invited me to continue my own process and practice of surrender. To realize that we have already taken a huge step. We are here. There is still so much to do … endless work actually. There are still questions on how we’ll be able to do it … still many unknowns. But … we are here.

Keyline Design At the Beach with Darren Doherty

Water has been a prominent subject on my mind in recent weeks (months already?). With the understanding that fertile soils are the basis for any … ummm … life! well established in my consciousness the door is opened to the subject of how to restore (and maintain) eroded soils (of which we have numerous kinds on our land). Water has appeared as THE answer.  It surfaced in two distinct ways.

The first was Sepp Holzer’s new book Desert or Paradise. I have mixed feelings and thoughts about this book which feels less complete then the exceptional Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture (I have plans to start doing book reviews, but plans are rolling out slowly these days). Then came this excellent series of videos by Darren Doherty whom I’ve only recently discovered and whom I’ve grown to admire. In this series he demonstrates core ideas of keyline design … at the beach. Here is part 1 (of 5):

 

Pickles – Alex Hozven

Great video introducing the wider (then pickled cucumbers) world of pickling:

The Man Who Planted Trees

complements of Paul Wheaton at Permies

Weather Report Winter 2012/13

Winter came much earlier this year. We had a major snowfall in early December that left us with a snow cover that the previous year had only appeared at the end of January. It is also brought with the coldest period we had during this winter – a few days where temperatures dropped below -15c.

We had 3 or 4 more note-worthy snow falls throughout December, January and February but for the most part this winter felt dry – as if the previous season’s drought continued throughout the winter. The snow did not accumulate to the levels it had the previous winter. February, usually the coldest winter month, was unusually warm (one time I was outside cutting wood wearing a short-sleeved shirt on a sunny day).

Snow melted fairly early – I think that by late february most of the snow was gone and signs of new green grasses emerged. Even the bees (from the surviving hive) came out for a look around a couple of weeks ago.

My consciousness switched into a spring-ish mode and was caught off-guard by a couple of really cold-weather waves that appeared in March. During the previous weekend there was another substantial snowfall … enough to cover EVERYTHING with a white blanket … but it mostly disappeared after a couple of days.

It’s only my second winter here at Bhudeva and the signs of climate change are very clear. Regardless of overall warming the weather is becoming much less stable, much less predictable and much more prone to extreme shifts. It takes only one, short, local extreme weather event (drought, late frost, hail …) to wipe out traditional crop-systems. It is a stark reminder to me how important deep infrastructures (water and soil fertility) filled with bio-diversity are in meeting this given instability (which is very likely to continue for a long time even if we were to start drastic global regenerative actions today … which doesn’t seem likely to happen).

As Cutia Taranului is coming to life again amidst these shifting and unpredictable weather patterns I find myself immersed in both satisfaction (because of how successful it has been and promises to continue to be) and concern (because of the knowledge that the traditional methods of agriculture used by most peasant families are fragile and unsustainable).

 

Livestock Guardian Dogs

Nice short movie about facing predators with guardian dogs:

Scythe

A scythe is a very common tool in Romania. If you don’t know what a scythe is have a look:

It can be, as aptly demonstrated in the video, a very useful tool. Actually it can be much more useful then shown in the video. I had the pleasure of watching someone who was really handy with it for a few months. Most people use it kind of clumsily … kind of like in the video above … it really comes into play when you learn to … for lack of a better word … dance with it … it gets much more swing with much less effort … but it takes getting used to. If I had to describe it (and I haven’t had much practice yet), you stand in a somewhat sumo-wrestler kind of stance, firmly grounded and swing the blade without reaching out or stretching forward. The arms need to be loose and most of the energy comes from a twisting motion in the hips. You swing and step forward (kind of an awkward elephant-ish step when your feet are spread apart for a good stance).

There are, however a few drawbacks to it. One, that you can get used to as it becomes part of the work, is the frequent sharpening. You really do need to sharpen it often. The other, not mentioned in the video, and that is more difficult to get used to, is the quality of what it is you are cutting. The scythe works great on a picturesque pasture of grass … but that is often not the case. When there are beefier plants to cut down (neglected weeds) it becomes much less fluent and (to me anyways) much less pleasant to use (there have been cases where I wished I had a power trimmer).

Also we have not yet been able to put together a good working scythe: a good blade, good wooden handle (apparently called a snath), a good mounting (which holds it firmly in place and can be dismounted easily). Cheap stuff is easy to find, quality isn’t. I didn’t know about an additional process called peening … a more thorough process of sharpening which I’ve never done nor witnessed … until I saw this followup video:

In the video there is a demonstratin of what looks like a really useful “peening anvil” and I searched for it. I found it, together with loads of what seems like quality scythe-stuff manufactured in Austria … which is here in Europe, even close by … which means we may be able to get our hands on it here in Romania (it bugs me that we can’t find quality tools, that are so common, made here in Romania).

Update: If you follow the above link to the Austrian manufacturer you will find, in the top right corner a video with a demonstration of efficient body movement when working with a scythe!

Toby Hemenway – Redesigning Civilization with Permaculture

When just over two years ago we came across permaculture we were overwhelmed by a flood of information. We couldn’t find anything to anchor us down, anything to help us make sense of it all. Fragments of information came at us from all directions and we didn’t know how to put it all together. We have since a few precious anchors to give us direction, but the day before yesterday we came across this by Toby Hemenway (author of a fairly well known in permaculture circles book Gaia’s Garden). We enjoyed every secon of this talk – one of the most clear and accessible introductions to permaculture we’ve come across. In it he gives an inspiring historical glimpse into the forces that shaped our modern day cilization and the difficulties we have been experiencing lately – especially with regard to food, but not just.

I wish we had come across this video earlier in our meeting with Permaculture.


This video also presents a welcomed and first opportunity to share Permaculture with others in our lives who’s lives have not yet presented a relevant invitation into this domain.

Sepp Holzer confirms my position on EU funding in Romania

I’ve started reading Sepp Holzer’s new book Desert or Paradise. Early in the book I found this:

“Intensive overgrazing is another example where damage is caused to trees. Spain and Portugal have a long tradition of extensive grazing, but it was mostly done with pigs in the past and they actually helped the ground. Bonus payments by the EU and the desire to make more money seduced a lot of farmers to start intensive animal husbandry. Nowadays they mostly keep sheep, goats and cattle.

This is too much for the ground and leads to loss of biodiversity and plant life …”

I believe many (if not most) of the EU payments to farmers and peasants in Romania achieve (by design!) a similar result. I recently mentioned this in the context of bees as well. Seeing that Sepp Holzer has similar views makes me think that maybe I am not so crazy … or maybe I am of a right crazy!